The Best Materials for Environmentally Friendly Bedding
When it comes to eco-friendly bedding options the landscape can be confusing at best, and a mind-numbing maze at worst. There are so many available materials, synthetic and natural, organic and non-organic, locally sourced and mass-produced, different rating agencies and categories. Which is truly the best and most responsible product from an environmental standpoint?
First let’s look at some of the materials used in manufacturing sheets, comforters, duvets, and other bedding products, including pros and cons of each. Of course there can be variations in quality within a material, and differences in environmental impact from manufacturer to manufacturer. Important things to consider are thread count, weave, weight, design, and finish.
- Bamboo – The advantages of bamboo are the lightweight construction and cooling capabilities. Bamboo holds dye well, making rich designs easy to produce. Bamboo grows quickly, making the textile more sustainable. Bamboo material requires gentle handling, wrinkles easily, and tends to be pricier.
- Cotton – Cotton has been a staple in textiles for centuries. It’s strong, easily dyed, and lasts a long time, even after multiple launderings. For most people it’s hypoallergenic. Quality of cotton products can vary greatly depending on the value of the raw materials and the thread count used in a product. It’s important to research and perform a tactile inspection before purchasing.
- Down – Down is the fluffy layer of feathers just above the skin of a goose or duck. Down is lightweight, but provides excellent insulation and warmth. Down is regarded as superior to any man-made batting for comforters and outerwear. It can be difficult to clean and the process for harvesting feathers can be inhumane. See "Responsible Down Certification: What Does It Mean?" for best practices when purchasing down products.
- Egyptian Cotton/Pima Cotton – Having a longer fiber for stronger fabric, Egyptian cotton feels more luxurious and absorbs moisture. The primary drawback for consumers is the higher pricepoint.
- Flannel – Flannel is a cotton product that is brushed up to expose tiny fibers for a softer feel. Of course flannel is warm and snug on a cold winter’s night, but can take a long time to launder.
- Linen – Eponymous with sheets and bedding, linen is a material made from the flax plant that dates back to Egyptian times. Linen is naturally antimicrobial and cooling and has a classic appearance that consumers gravitate to. As most people are aware, linen wrinkles easily and is not a flexible fiber.
- Microfleece – Microfleece is a polyester developed to mimic the texture of flannel. Unlike natural flannel, microfleece dries quickly because it repels water. Washable and affordably priced, microfleece can deteriorate after washing and also trap heat, so it’s not ideal for summertime.
- Modal – Modal is another plant-based fabric, made from beech trees. Similar to bamboo, modal requires extra care and cooler laundry settings. They are resistant to pilling, but can tear easily if not handled properly.
- Polyester – Developed in the last century, polyester is a synthetic polymer material that is completely man-made. It’s resistant to wrinkles, and is cheap. It’s easily washable, but can pill after time. It’s not especially breathable, and can easily stain.
- Silk – Often thought of as the height of indulgence in luxury bedding, silk is made of protein fibers created by silkworms. Silk both warms and cools and does not absorb moisture, making it kind to the skin. Silk is quite expensive and difficult to wash.
- Tencel – A soft plant fabric constructed from eucalyptus trees, Tencel cools and minimizes dampness. An eco-friendly product because it’s produced from fast-growing eucalyptus trees, Tencel is also made via a “closed loop process” where no chemicals leak into the environment. It feels slicker than regular cotton, which is a distraction for some, and because it tends to retain water, it can be prone to mildew. The cost is more than standard cotton but less than Egyptian or Pima cotton.
Here are some of the rating agencies for home textiles. While applied more to manufacturers than materials themselves, these certifications can help guide you to products that are more environmentally conscious.
- Certified B Corporation – To be a Certified B Corporation, companies must ensure transparency in social and environmental performance.
- Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) – GOTS is a leading processing standard in the world textile market. The supply chain process from sourcing of raw materials all the way to production is overseen to ensure an organic product.
- OEKO-TEX® – OEKO-TEX® is an independent reviewer, testing, and certification program for all levels of textile products.
- Green America – To obtain a Green America business certification, a business must be committed to using their platform for social change.
Whatever material you choose should be based on your individual lifestyle. Careful research should yield a product and manufacturer that is environmentally and practically suitable for your needs.